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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With adoptions and purchases of dogs soaring in many U.S. cities during the pandemic, scammers are taking note.

COVID-19 has pushed shopping online, even for new pets, and that can make it easier for crooks to set up a scheme – often using cute puppy pics to get your money, the Better Business Bureau warned Wednesday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased demand for pets as people seek adding a pet to the family to ease the loneliness and tension of prolonged time at home,” according to the BBB. “Many feel that they now have more time to train a puppy. With this rising demand has come a spike in pet scams, in which an online search ends with a would-be pet owner paying hundreds of dollars or more to purchase a pet that ultimately doesn’t exist.”

BBB data shows the average amount that people lost in these scams in 2020 was $750 with half of the victims between the ages of 35 and 55. In 2017, the BBB recorded 884 pet scam reports worth $448,123 in losses – in 2020 there have already been 4,300 reports worth $3,100,000.

Michigan woman Carol Ford fell victim to one.

“I’ve been brought up with poodles and I haven’t had one in two years,” she said. “The little red poodle was one of my favorites and I just wanted that type of dog and they are hard to find so I went to the internet.”

Ford found a little poodle called Sassy on a site called Poodles Groomers. She was adorable, seated next to Halloween decorations.

Ford put down a $500 deposit for the dog, which was listed for $1,350.

Her mom recently passed away and her kids are grown. Sassy was going to be her new companion.

“Go everywhere with me, vacations, store,” she said. “My whole family was so excited for me, my friends.”

The day before Sassy was supposed to arrive, the seller began asking for more money, claiming the dog needed insurance for the flight from Georgia.

“I thought, ‘Wait a minute here,'” Ford said.

She became suspicious and asked to talk to the seller on the phone. The scam started to reveal itself: She said the more questions she asked, the angrier the man became. 

“I said, ‘What airline?'” she recalled. “I’ll go to the airport. I’ll pay them to have the dog shipped, we’ll do it that way. Nope.”

Ford said looking back, there were signs that it was fake from the beginning — but like in many scams, her judgment had been clouded by her emotions.

A quick way to learn if you are being scammed is a reverse image search on Google. Right click on the image of the pet and choose “search Google for image.” If you see thousands of hits and the same image listed on multiple sites, it’s a scam.

The BBB recommends that if you can’t visit the dog in person, use a video call to see it. Make sure it’s live and not prerecorded.

Red flags include a deeply discounted price or sellers refusing to talk on the phone. A foreign accent could also be a giveaway because the BBB says most of these scammers are overseas.

Ford asked for her money back, but no luck. The cash is gone and Sassy was a sham.

“I don’t know if it was worse losing the money or the puppy,” Ford said.

The BBB says that scammers are increasingly using mobile payment apps like Zelle and CashApp instead of the money wire services like Western Union used in 2017. Both Zelle and CashApp have issued warnings about pet scams.

Who to contact if you are the victim of a pet scam:

  • – tracks complaints, catalogues puppy scammers and endeavors to get fraudulent pet sales websites taken down.
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – to file a complaint online or call 877-FTC-Help.
  • Better Business Bureau – BBB Scam Tracker to report a scam online.
  • Canadian Antifraud Centre – antifraudcentre-centreantifraude or call 1-888-495-8501 for scams involving Canada.
  • Your credit card issuer – if you provided your credit card number, even if the transaction was not completed.